Attempt to resupply Hill 314 by air and shell

A US 105mm M3 Howitzer in action in Normandy 1944.

A US 105mm M3 Howitzer in action in Normandy 1944.

The 2nd Battalion/120th Infantry Regiment was still holding off the German counter-attack outside Mortain on Hill 314. They had sustained heavy casualties but the Germans had not been able to move them off the hill – from where they were directing US artillery fire from further back. It was known that they had many wounded and they were short of food, medicine and, crucially, batteries for the radios.

An attempt was being made to parachute supplies into them – but they occupied a narrow position jutting into the German lines. The US artillery now worked up an innovative solution, they would attempt to fire medical supplies into the position – by putting the supplies inside artillery shells.

Lt. Ralph A. Kerley, Co. “E” Commander on Hill 314, describes the final two days:

Although the air drop had been scheduled for 10 August, the men on the Hill had little hope for success. The morning had been spent in comparative quiet. At approximately 1530 hours, a group of our fighter planes appeared and they dive bombed and strafed several enemy areas, starting fires and explosions. After they had accomplished their mission, they circled and came in low over the battalion positions.

The men on the Hill jumped for their fox holes, fearing that the fighters had mistaken our positions for that of the enemy. Their fears were false however. At 1600 hours, the fighters returned, escorting a flight of C-47’s. Possibly the most beautiful sight the men had ever seen, was the multicolored parachutes lazily floating down.

Approximately one half of the drop landed far into the enemy lines, but at least, the battalion had some food, ammunition and a limited amount of medical supplies. One of the most important items contained in the drop was radio batteries. A report was made to regiment of the drop and an attempt to schedule another drop was made, especially for medical supplies.

In the meantime, the S-3 of the 230th Field Artillery Battalion had an idea to relieve the situation. Ten rounds of M-84 (base ejection HC smoke)) ammunition were opened, and the smoke canisters and base ejection charge removed. The rounds were then filled with medical supplies, bandages, dressings, sulfanilamide and morphine syrettes.

The steel disc in the nose was replaced to prevent the fuze, when detonated, from ruining the contents. Four other shells were treated likewise, and were filled with sand to approximately the same weight. These rounds were to be used for adjustment.

The S-3 them made his intentions known to the men on the Hill and gave instructions for opening the projectiles. The adjustment was completed at approximately 2130 hours, and the medical rounds were then fired. None of these rounds were recovered due to ricochets and darkness.

Even though the medical supplies were badly needed, the presence of food and ammunition served to raise morale to a new high.

11 August: Enemy Withdrawal

As soon as the mist lifted on 11 August, the artillery again attempted to fire in medical supplies. Six rounds were fired and all were recovered. This operation was only partially successful, however, the concussion being too great for the containers of the morphine and plasma.

Enemy traffic towards the east was increasing, with very little traffic towards our lines.

Evidently the enemy was starting a withdrawal. With communications reestablished with regiment and the artillery, the battalion was able to inflict untold damage on the withdrawing columns. Several air strikes were requested, and were carried out at what seemed to be all at the same time.

The Air Corps pounded the enemy columns unmercifully, and the burning enemy columns could be seen for miles in all directions. This slaughter continued all day.

During the night, the major enemy foot elements started their withdrawal. Our artillery plastered every available route of withdrawal and was very effective, as was evidenced by the screams and hysterical cries of the enemy. There was no doubt now that relief was certain, and the battalion rested and listened to the constant singing of the outgoing artillery.

See 30th Division for the full account

The awesome power of the 155mm 'Long Tom' artillery piece, Normandy 1944.

The awesome power of the 155mm ‘Long Tom’ artillery piece, Normandy 1944.

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